U-M offensive line vs. Utah's defensive line.
Inexperience on inexperience. U-M returns one starter to its O-line unit in tackle Steve Schilling, three former backups with little or no experience in David Moosman, Tim McAvoy and Mark Ortmann, and a newbie in either Dave Molk or John Ferrara.
Utah runs a 4-3 defense, with 4 defensive linemen. The Utes have two returning vets in NT Kenape Eliapo (6-0, 303) and DE Paul Krueger (just a soph but had 63 tackles as a frosh), plus two new starters: DE Koa Misi (6-2, 265) and DT Greg Newman (6-4, 260).
*This battle in the trenches could decide the game*
Advantage: slight to Utah
U-M rushing attack vs. the Utah linebackers.
Michigan may well have rookie QB Nick Sheridan running tbe ball some, plus veteran running back Brandon Minor, and newbies RB's Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw. Carlos Brown may carry it as well - another upperclassman with little experience.
Utah's linebacker unit has Honorable mention all-MWC Stevenson Sylvester (6-2, 224) at their WILL spot, a new starter at MIKE in Mike Wright (6-2, 230) and, at SAM a new starter who however played in every game on '07 in Nai Fotu (6-0, 235).
*Can Minor break the Ute LB's tackles? Can McGuffie and Shaw make them miss while hanging onto the ball? Minor may be the key here in softening the Utes up for the young Wolverines speedsters.*
Advantage: slight to Utah
U-M passing attack vs. the Utah defensive backfield.
*Here is where the Utes seem to have a substantial advantage.*
The Ute defenders led the MWC in pass efficiency defense in 2007. Strong safety Joe Dale (5-11, 197) was Defensive MVP of the Poinsetta Bowl. Returning starter Robert Johnson (6-2, 195) mans the free safety spot. Brice McCain (5-9, 182, 4.28 40) is a returning starter at cornerback. At the other corner is new starter Justin Jones (5-9, 180) although senior Deshawn Richard (6-0, 195) had a strong spring and could end up on the field as well.
Michigan has a strong corps of outside receivers in Greg Mathews, Daryl Stonum, and Laterryal Savoy. The slot spot is inexperienced with frosh Tay Odoms and inexperienced as well with Toney Clemons backing up. Michigan has probably the best TE corps of any spread team in the country in Carson Butler and Mike Massey.
Will anyone be able to get this talented U-M receiver corps the ball? Coach Rod should name a starter today (we'll see) ... but is is oddly interesting that he's been insisting all fall that Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet are "pretty similar" in style ... Threet is supposed to the the passing expert, Sheridan the runner. *What does it all mean? We'll find out in three more days.*
Utes O-line vs Michigan's D-line.
Utah returns four of the five O-line starters in '08. Utah native Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) and Texan Robert Conley (6-1, 310) are the top returners, with another Utah-ite Caleb Schlauderaff (6-4, 305) not far behind after starting last year as a freshman. OC Zane Taylor (6-2, 305) is from Utah as well.
Utah also returns tight ends Brad Clifford (6-4, 250) and Colt Sampson (6-4, 250), two more Utah-ites.
On the other side of the ball awaits perhaps the strongest unit on the '08 Wolverines: defensive linemen Terrance Taylor, Brandon Graham, Will Johnson, Tim Jamison. This group has to overpower the Utah offensive line for the Wolverines to win - simple as that. And with the aggressive attacking style that defensive coordinator Scott Shafer has implemented, overpower they should.
Utes' rushing attack vs. the Michigan linebackers.
The Ute running game is the strength of their offense. Utah returns both native son Matt Asiata (5-11, 230) and Californian Darrell Mack (6-0, 220). Asiata was the starter in the opener in '07 but broke his leg in the first game, and Mack came in as a redshirt freshman and ran for 1200 yards. Mack also caught 21 passes for 144 yards and 3 TD's.
Hoping to stop the Ute running backs is the U-M linebacker corps, talented but rather untested. Thursday night in his TV show Coach Rod said Obi Ezeh, Austin Panter, Marell Evans and John Thompson are going to carry the load - and that they have to tackle in space to be successful Saturday.
Utah passing attack vs. the U-M defensive backfield.
Quarterback Brian Johnson (6-1, 200, from Houston) was the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl Offensive MVP after a season played on a still-recovering 2006-injured knee.
The Ute receiving corps look potent, even though the Utes finished just 7th in the conference in passing in '07 (202.2 yards per game). Bradon Godfrey (6-3, 200, from Utah) had 50- catches for 524 yards in 2007. Brent Casteel (5-10, 200, from California) returns after his 2007 season was lost to a knee injury.
The Michigan secondary should be up to the challenge that the Ute passing attack offers. If the D-line is not the strength of the '08 Wolverines, then the CB unit is: Donovan Warren, Mortan Trent and frosh Boubacar Cissoko. At safety, Steven Brown and Brandon Harrison have to prove they can tackle and prevent the big play ... if they can, then the '08 Wolverine defense may be as good as any U-M defense in recent memory.
BTW, the kickers are strong for both teams. U-M wouldn't trade PK K.C. Lopata and P Zoltan Mesko for anyone ... but Utah's P/PK Louie Sakoda was first team All American as a punter.
With so many Wolverine unknowns, particularly on offense, it'd be better if this section could be written after the first quarter today.
However, here's a stab.
Assuming that the Michigan defense can hold Utah to 15 points ... can the Wolverines score more than 15?
U-M vs Utah. Unit on Unit. Who's got the Edge
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